Hrithik Roshan 2.0 Looks like the Superstar He was Always Meant to Be

Bollywood

Hrithik Roshan 2.0 Looks like the Superstar He was Always Meant to Be

Illustration: Arati Gujar

While the Big Bollywood Hero Entry is still a masala film staple, they don’t quite make them like they used to. You don’t even need to work at it, these days. Just the sight of the hero usually leads to a loud manifestation of hero-worship. (Here’s looking at you, Singham) But every few years, a Hindi film throws up an entry that hits at the heart of the theatrical cinema experience – the kind of entrance that causes the audience to react and emote collectively, as one. (Think of Shah Rukh Khan’s melodramatic meet-mom in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.) But as far as ‘entries’ go, in a league of its own, sits the one made by Hrithik Roshan in Vikram Vedha.

Post-War Hrithik Roshan (2.0, if you will) is an upgrade for the age of climate change – he retains the raw power of an internal combustion engine, but it sizzles and scorches on screen with the silent efficiency of an electric vehicle.

In Siddharth Anand’s War, Hrithik Roshan’s gorgeously grey Kabir wordlessly brought the audience alive when he made his first proper appearance at base camp. I distinctly remember the nearly-full auditorium gasping in unison, age and gender no bar, as he alights the chopper. Everyone forgot to cheer and whistle, because we were all caught up in the sheer ‘sexiness’ of the moment. The reactions of the characters in the film felt like a self-aware move by the filmmaker, because there was no parallel to the kind of star power this new avatar of Hrithik Roshan has kindled over the last few years. Tiger Shroff and Ashutosh Rana were stand-ins for the audience – we were all that gobsmacked. Roshan has seen great highs and deep lows in his career, but this version of him seemed like it was a long time coming.

Quite like he couldn’t possibly have predicted the paradigm-changing impact his very first film, perhaps he himself couldn’t have foretold how War would elevate his stardom to a level that it seems no other Hindi film star can presently touch. Post-War Hrithik Roshan (2.0, if you will) is an upgrade for the age of climate change – he retains the raw power of an internal combustion engine, but it sizzles and scorches on screen with the silent efficiency of an electric vehicle.

I thought it would be a while before he got another moment or film like that – particularly since Roshan has shown throughout his career that he is willing to mix it up, not always leaning on his breath-taking screen beauty while plying his craft. Then, along comes Pushkar-Gayatri’s remake of their own Vikram Vedha. This one couldn’t have been more different from War, and Vijay Sethupathi’s masterfully mysterious Vedha desperately needed someone who could give it a new spin. (On the other hand, Saif Ali Khan’s turn as Vikram is a fair approximation of R Madhavan).

Roshan has seen great highs and deep lows in his career, but this version of him seemed like it was a long time coming.

Once again, it begins straight with a relatively late entrance. For the longest time you only see Vedha’s back, as the camera tracks with him from behind.  A horde of cops and security forces are exiting police HQ, even as the gangster goes exactly where the police don’t expect. It is not a particularly fresh moment in the way it’s written and staged. The original Tamil film had it. (Ek Villain Returns had something similar as well, just saying.) But, even as he enters, you can almost instantly sense that Hrithik Roshan is up to the task. The whistles, obviously, start well before his face is revealed. Here’s the thing: this Hindi heartland Vedha’s countenance is quite similar to Hrithik Roshan’s vibe as Anand Kumar in Super30. The brownface is back, even though the facial hair is artfully messy this time. He talks nearly the same, even grins the same. But Hrithik 2.0 brings a whole new level of swagger and coolth to this character.

You’ll see it in full force a little later, in what is ostensibly a sort of chase sequence through a tightly packed neighbourhood. With most other action stars, including an earlier version of Roshan himself (Bang Bang! has a similar sequence at some point), this would have been the star and/or a stunt double doing parkour over rooftops. Hrithik’s Vedha, though, turns it almost into ballet. There’s no way to confirm this feeling just yet, but the effortless ease with which Vedha is shown to navigate over and through the dense, low, sprawl doesn’t feel like that’s how it was written in the script. It seems more like a function of what filmmakers can extract from this liberated version of Hrithik Roshan, using his re-minted superstar aura.

It took him a couple of decades, but Hrithik Roshan no longer has to live up to his own early high bar. You might sense shades of that freedom in Vikram Vedha, where he wears his swag on his sleeve.

Against all odds and conventional wisdom, with Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, Hrithik Roshan arrived into public consciousness a fully-formed star. Since then, he has had more misses than hits. I’m not talking about box office, but about how often he managed to hit or surpass the bar he set for himself so early in his career. The odd Dhoom 2, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Agneepath kept him firmly in the A-List, but War seemed like the beginning of a whole new chapter. That film ended in a manner that almost demanded his character be turned into a larger franchise. The Khans have their own superstar appeal, but Kabir feels like the coolest cat on the block.

In that sense, considering the one-of-a-kind dream debut that he had, for me War probably counts as just Roshan’s second film. Everything in the middle was merely prep. It took him a couple of decades, but Hrithik Roshan no longer has to live up to his own early high bar. You might sense shades of that freedom in Vikram Vedha, where he wears his swag on his sleeve. Despite its lack of detailing, Vedha, in particular, is more a clever movie construct than a fully-written person. It gives Hrithik Roshan the chance to cement this new phase of his career further. It might be a minute before he takes it a notch higher than War, but I can’t wait to see how he will drop our jaws next.

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